A little over a month ago, I traveled to Côte d’Ivoire. Formerly known as Ivory Coast (its name was legally changed to its French translation), it is a country on the west coast of Africa near the equator.
That place was hot! In most cities, the daily temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and this was coupled with a high dose of humidity. I don’t think a New Yorker’s body was built to handle that.
There were a lot of insects and I found that they really enjoyed my company at night. I’m not going to candy coat this either; those insects were really ugly. Turning on the light to go to the restroom was a unique experience each time. The mosquitoes seemed to like me the most.
There were a number of shots I needed in advance of the trip and medication I took prophylactically to protect me while I was there. Currently, I’m immune to a lot of stuff!
For me, the shots were transactions and dealing with the bugs was a cost of admission. The heat was bearable with light clothing and a lot of fluids. I knew these things would be issues before embarking on the trip.
My trip to Côte d’Ivoire was an A+ cultural and interpersonal experience. I loved the trip and these other items were acceptable tradeoffs to have this experience. Third world travel is not everyone’s desire nor should it be. We each have different things we enjoy and different risks we are willing to take. This is what makes us unique and special.
Côte d’Ivoire was steeped in tribal tradition, but there were always the subtle hints of modern technology. The villagers would live in small clay huts, but many would have smartphones. Few people owned cars, but you couldn’t miss the occasional adolescent cruising around on his hoverboard.
The children in each of the villages would swarm around us, some rubbing our skin as they thought we were wearing makeup. To them, I think we seemed like friendly visitors from another planet. They loved interacting with us and they found immense humor in the simplest things. Many would parrot what I said, so I provided them some useful lessons in English.
We also stopped by the church service of a Nigerian sect. Their worship was a mixture of Christianity and tribal traditions. The worshipers were all dressed in white and they spent most of the service dancing. It was a fascinating display.
One of the priests gave me a candle and said that it would bring me good fortune. Admittedly, I got sick the next day and decided to leave the candle at our hotel. Perhaps the priest was wrong in this case.
Village disputes were generally handled by the chief. There we no pre-trial briefs and no discovery. A decision was made and there was no appeal. The chief was universally respected in the village as an authority figure and a voice of wisdom.
We saw several unique mask dances that entire villages came to watch. The masks were beautiful and the skill and athleticism on display were amazing. Some of the younger villagers would periodically clown around during the ceremony until they received a tongue lashing from one of the elders. The village elders represented the strict guardians of tradition.
Trips like these always bring me in contact with fellow travelers having the most unique backgrounds and experiences (after all, who chooses Côte d’Ivoire as their starter trip?) Some of the folks on my tour had been to almost every country currently in existence (and some that no longer exist). They shared pictures and details of some of their journeys. I met a scientist who was embedded with US special operations in some of the most dangerous places in the world and a 90-year-old former soldier who served with General Patton in post-war Germany.
There is something special to me about being somewhere where life is completely different than what I am used to. So many destinations have adjusted to tourists, which makes it tougher to experience how the locals truly live. There are very few places left in the world that are mostly untouched.
I sometimes get caught in the material aspects of things. Many of the locals were extremely happy with what we would consider to be very little. Trips like this help ground me and realize that in my personal life people, relationships and experiences should always take precedence over “stuff.” It helps me in my profession as a financial planner and it also helps me strive to become a better person.